Today I noticed an interesting change to the way reviews are displayed in Google Places. They used to all be in the same section on the page, regardless of source. So reviews that were left directly on Google were displayed together with those that were pulled in from other trusted sites like CitySearch and Yahoo. Now, however, Google has separated these into 2 sections: “Reviews from around the web” and “Reviews by Google users.” The external reviews are further separated by source. Interestingly, Google has chosen to show the external reviews above the Google ones.
Looks like Mike Blumenthal caught this review display upgrade earlier today as well. He noticed that the review source being displayed first is always the one with the most volume of reviews. Also, the most recent 2 reviews are always displayed from the highest volume review source. These are important observations, as it really puts priority on review volume.
So what does this mean for SEO? Or for Local SEO in particular? Well, this gives users a more easily readable way to evaluate the reviews for a business. I think it is a good change in terms of the user experience. It also helps identify if a business is trying to game the review system by posting reviews on trusted sites other than Google, where the rules about multiple accounts are less strict and review moderation is more lax. So this can potentially hurt review spammers, which would be a good thing. At the same time, this encourages the acquisition of reviews from multiple sources. If your competitors have reviews from 5 different trusted sites, that will look more credible than if your listing which has reviews from only CitySearch. Further, this helps SEOs identify trusted review sites within different industries/niches, which should help with local optimization.
After doing a couple searches on this, I found that David Mihm already noticed this change as well.
Could this change also mean that Google is putting more weight on diversity of review sources? You decide…